Last week was B1G drama city with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers. Well, just one week later and Northwestern fans will get an up close and personal look at the team that upon entering our league in 2014 will dethrone us as the lone Under Armour team in the conference. Much more is at stake tonight as the ‘Cats (6-0) host a Maryland (4-1) team that presents a very interesting match-up (8:15 pm ct, ESPN2). Let’s get through an abbreviated preview to give you the Cliff Notes on what you need to know tonight at what should be a rockin’ Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Just How Good Is Maryland? Great question. If you buy in the fact that a VERY young (then #3)Kentucky team is all that, then very good. Maryland opened their season with a 72-69 loss to Kentucky in Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center. Three of their four wins have been blowouts against Morehead State, Long Island, and Georgia Southern, while one game, the Patriot League’s Lafayette Leopards gave them a battle in a style that bodes well for the ‘Cats (more in a bit).
Wait, No Gary Williams? Where have you been, my friend? The Terps are coached by Mark Turgeon, former Texas A&M head coach, who went 17-15 in year one in College Park.
Strike Fear In Me! One word – rebounding. Maryland will provide a huge challenge for our frontcourt tonight as the Terps lead the COUNTRY in offensiving rebound and are 4th best overall averaging 46 rpg, a mark we never approach, despite our improved totals this year. The Terps rising star is sophomore Alex Len, a 7-1 Ukranian crasher exploded against Kentucky’s bigs for 23 points. He’s a more modest 13.8 ppg since the opener as teams have tried to double him up. While not quite B1G, Maryland is B-I-G. They pound it inside with several bigs like forward James Padgett and Dezmine Wells. Turgeon plays 10 deep and they are solid off the bench. Their version of Drew Crawford is 6-6 guard, Nick Faust. Should be a great game within the game between Faust and Crawford.
Give me hope! Read: Leopards! Maryland is not good at perimeter defense and has been torched from three this season. I truly believe tonight’s make or break will come down to our 3-pt shooting – if we’re on, we win, if not, we’ll lose. That and at least some modest rebounding by our bigs. Lafayette, a 1-4 Patriot League team bombed on Maryland shooting 15-32 from 3-point range and came from way back to make it a little nerve racking for the home team. Unlike Saturday vs Illinois State, the ‘Cats should get plenty of open looks.
Have We Ever Played Them Before? Yes, but you were likely too young to remember it! Those who love all-time series leads, we’ll we have one…for now. We beat Maryland in December of 1958 66-62 at McGaw Hall (now Welsh-Ryan) in Evanston. Thanks to our man at NU Archives, Kevin Leonard, we even have proof in the form of black and white moving pictures. Note: Drew Crawford and teammates get a little more lift on their shots these days…
Aren’t We On Fire In This Challenge? I’m so glad you asked. Yes, after a miserable start to this thing, Northwestern’s fortunes have trended along with the B1G’s in the 13 years of the ACC/B1G. Northwestern is looking to make it five straight wins in the event and when you include our win over BC in the NIT, six straight against ACC opponents. We are 6-7 in the Challenge. Here is our history to date in this puppy:
12/1/99 – vs. Florida State – L 46-60
11/28/00 – at Clemson – L, 44-57
11/28/01 – vs. Florida State- W, 57-50
12/4/02 – at NC State – L, 49-74
12/1/03 – at Florida State – L, 53-71
12/1/04 – vs. Virginia – L, 44-48
11/30/05 – at Virginia – L, 57-72
11/28/06 – vs. Miami (Fla.) – W, 61-59
11/27/07 – at Virginia – L, 52-94
12/3/08 – vs. Florida State – W, 73-59
12/1/09 – at NC State – W, 65-53
11/30/10 – vs. Georgia Tech – W, 91-71
11/29/11 – at Georgia Tech – W, 76-60
Aren’t We, Like, Mr. November In Hoops? Yes, and while it is kinda the opposite of being Mr. March (where you want to be), it’s a start. The ‘Cats are looking to finish their third straight November undefeated and has won 21 STRAIGHT games in the month of November, second only to Syracuse (30 straight) in the country.
Who Do You See As Key Tonight? Alex Olah. The big man sat in the South Padre title game as the freshman was simply too slow footed to hang with the Redbirds’ big men. Jared Swopshire has been huge and will present some match-up issues for Maryland as the South Padre MVP has been money from three and also a force on the boards. The ‘Cats should be able to draw defenders out to the perimeter and run more of their patented offense. Saturday, they got clogged in every lane, nearly every time and won playing a different game. I see more of the traditional Princeton offense and I see at least 25 3-point shots.
We Seem Like Opposite Styles…Any Similarities? Yes. Both teams are masters of the assist. Northwestern is tops in the B1G and 5th in the nationwith 19.3 apg, while Maryland is 3rd in the country with 19.4 apg. The Terps average 76 ppg, while NU averages 72.7 ppg, however, the ‘Cats have been much better on FG % D than Maryland. Then again, the ‘Cats also lead the B1G in opponents’ scoring average at a mere 53 ppg. Maryland will score at least 15 more than that tonight.
Is This Do Or Die? Short answer no. The Illinois State win will look HUGE in March should we bubble city as we usually are these days. However, a Maryland win would be very nice both for RPI, KenPom and just overall name brand appeal. Should we lose, it puts a lot more pressure on our upcoming games with the likes of @ Baylor, Butler and Stanford, the only real “quality win” opportunities left on our non-conference schedule.